Yesterday, Google launched an array of new devices in an attempt to beat Apple, Samsung and Amazon at their own game. While everything that the company has shown off looks impressive, it does feel like it is all too little too late.
The biggest – and most leaked – announcement was the new range of iPhone-rivalling Pixel phones. I say iPhone-rivalling because to look at there is little to distinguish the 5-inch Pixel and 5.5-inch Pixel XL from the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. They have similarly visible antenna lines and sleek brushed aluminium backs. Under the hood the phones boast similar specs to an iPhone 7 with a marginally improved camera. They aren’t waterproof but they do at least have a headphone jack.
The main point of similarity between the Pixel and the iPhone however isn’t in the hardware but in the harware/software integration. Integration between a mobile OS and hardware is the reason why people have bought iPhones for the past nine years. While Samsungs and HTCs have boasted better processors or fancier cameras, the iPhone has always been a dead cert for consumers purely for the fact that it simply just works.
It would be too drastic to claim that Google is acknowledging that phone manufacturers are out of step with its operating system, but in creating a bespoke phone to go hand-in-hand with a bespoke OS, the company is taking a step towards what Apple has been doing all along.
Similarly, you just need to take a glance at the Daydream to see where Google got its inspiration from.
Gear VR is by no means a masterpiece, or even the optimal way to experience virtual reality, but the $79 Daydream headset seems to be taking several leaves out of Samsung’s book. The fabric head mounted display looks to be the spiritual successor to the inexpensive Google Cardboard, only working initially with the Pixel phones but with a promise to suport other devices down the road. One thing that Daydream does have over the Gear VR, however, is a neat looking hand controller which should allow developers to create experiences closer to the HTC Vive and PlayStation VR – albeit on a much slimmer budget.
Also announced were Google Home – what looks to be a cheaper Amazon Echo but with a less high fidelity speaker – Google WiFi – an Eero-esque multi-device networking setup – and a new Chromecast – the only company Google is aping with this is itself.
I’m sure that retailers will shift plenty of these devices, but after all the buzz surrounding the Pixel phone (though that was mostly out of a curiosity to see if anything hadn’t been leaked about the device prior to launch), Google isn’t so much reinventing the wheel as it is making a new tyre. The company that completely shook up the mobile space and legitimately revolutionised phone and tablet production with Android should be making the next big leap forwards. Unfortunately, it just seems that Google is marching in step with everyone else.
It could even be argued that Google is purposefully playing it safe, not wanting to make the same mistakes as Microsoft with its haphazard mobile device history. Google is already synonymous with mobile computing and if the company was to do anything too drastic it could put that leader status at risk.
Google’s Pixel presentation was full of devices that look pretty and functional, but there wasn’t anything that had that real ‘wow’ factor. If there are any takeaways from the device reveal event it’s that Google is trying to get with the times, not provide an insight into the future.
But hey, at least we stil have a headphone jack.